Conference #2 was MAC, also located conveniently in Indy from April 18-20. Indy’s just a quick drive away; I again got lucky that this regional conference happened to be so close. This was my second weekend in a row in Indy.
I drove up with my friend Andrew, who I got to know this year through the IU SAA student chapter. He’s interested in electronic records management, so we were the two techy, digitally inclined student chapter members. We tried to find more people to room with, but I was met with crickets when I emailed the SLIS listserv to find people.
I was very impressed with the welcoming attitude expressed by the conference organizers to the students in attendance. At the opening remarks, the conference chair even stated that she was proud to have a significant number (I can’t recall how many) of us in attendance. And then people clapped! I felt this same excitement from other archivists I met throughout the conference. I really appreciated it. I have been to lots of conferences as a library school student and this was the most welcome I have ever felt. I mean, it’s not that I have been in places where I have felt unwelcome, but… it makes a difference. I was very touched that MAC went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They even provided 15 students with free registration for the conference, in addition to other awards; I was honored to receive the MAC Emeritus Scholarship for first time attendees. MAC’s generosity floored me. What a way to help fledgling archivists find their way.
On the first night, the reception was held at the State Library. Open bar! This is also where the (delicious) Society of American Archivists cake shown in the pictures below was located. Afterward, I headed to Scotty’s Brewhouse, where I organized a grad students and new archivists’ meetup. It was attended by around 30 people and I think I met everyone. I can’t help it; I love talking to other students, dishing about our programs and comparing notes. Getting the “how I landed my job” spiel from the newly hired is also great. I was even able to see some recent SLIS grads (and former SAA-SC officers). At this point, conferences are just happy reunions.
I feel that I need to point out that there were five current students from IU-B present at MAC. Actually, let’s say six, just in case I forgot one; we’ll be generous.
Let that sink in: six.
Six students out of two hundred something, a significant portion of which are archives and records management specialization students.
I’m pretty aghast at this. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. And, as you’re about to realize, openly derisive. I JUST DON’T GET IT. I may never get it. Having a cheap ($45), welcoming, regional conference 50 minutes away from where you’re living is a blatant luxury. It’s something you should gorge yourself on if you’re at all thinking strategically.
So why don’t students go to this conference (or others)? Some possible ideas:
Ignorance. Students just don’t know about it. Well, this isn’t true since I emailed the entire SLIS listserv looking for a roommate so they should at least know that MAC exists and was in Indy. But for other conferences, sure, you don’t know that it exists. My response is simple: Well, you should. At least for wannabe academic librarians; that’s all I can speak to. You should be checking out all the librarian resumes and CVs you can get your hands on. I learned what conferences to keep an eye out for by this sort of creeping. Or ask a mentor. Or do a Google search. Just research conferences somehow. It’s the only way to sort through all the acronyms and learn the professional landscape. They’re a great tool for bolstering your CV and should not be ignored.
Money. Money is a good excuse. When insanely expensive programs are bleeding students dry, money should always be a concern. And that is exactly why all students should take advantage of the opportunity to present at local conferences. Yes, you’ll still have to pay a registration fee, and yes, you may need to pay for a hotel stay, but in the long run it is worth it, especially if you are presenting. It’s an investment where you are conveying that you can step up, that you want to be part of a larger conversation. MAC, like many regional conferences, was dirt cheap for registration (which included food and an open bar one night) and offered scholarships. There are ways around the money problem.
Inconvenience. Yes, MAC happened in the thick of finals. But honestly, if I can work full-time and go to school full-time and have a month of conference presentations pressing at me from all sides, it is possible for others to manage too. I am not exceptional, trust me on that. I just plan long-term and remain grateful every day to the employers and professors whose flexibility helps me achieve. If approached correctly, they will understand and almost certainly encourage you to do it. The only inconvenience is probably in your head. Defer gratification, invest your time, accept the inconvenience, and just do it.
Relevance. I’m guessing that many don’t think it applies to them since they don’t want to be archivists. There are certainly plenty of SLIS students who wouldn’t find MAC relevant, no denying that. I also won’t speak to the archives and records management specialization folks since by god I should not need to convince them of MAC’s relevance. Instead, I’ll speak to the digital nomads like myself. I will never be a traditional archivist. I don’t have the expertise. But I may work with digital collections in the form of institutional repositories, preservation/curation/stewardship of digital objects, etc. There are so many opportunities where the digitally inclined can come flying in and fill in the gaps! Talk about ideas for archivists to get involved in the digital humanities. Show off tools like HistoryPin or Neatline. It’s all a big incestuous mash up anyway, with the digital librarian and the digital archivist and the digital projects coordinator all having overlapping job descriptions. I think the key is not to say, “I’m not an archivist so I won’t fit in there,” but rather, “I’m not an archivist but I will probably be working with them in my future job as a digital whatever, so what can I learn from them?” We need to be thinking BIG PICTURE. This is just one small piece of it. I attended a lot of conferences and felt a lot of awkwardness but it is so worth it because I’m starting to get a feel for the big picture. And it’s really hard and uncomfortable and not something you learn in a classroom.
SLIS culture. I saved this one for last because I do think that there is a web of issues that contributes to SLIS student apathy. I always wavered on this; I didn’t want to blame SLIS unjustly. But after seeing 17 students attending MAC from UW-Madison’s library school, I don’t think I care to contest that culture impacts participation. (UW-Madison also brought a whole bunch of people to our SAA-SC student conference–they are really, really impressive.) So what makes UW-Madison so awesome? Is it because their program is more selective, accepting only half the applicants? Is it because their program is significantly smaller, so people get to know each other better? Is it because they have the Wisconsin Historical Society and a more robust archives program? Those are probably factors, but I’d also warrant a guess that their advisors and professors do a good job of encouraging conference participation. I have never had a SLIS professor, administrator, or advisor recommend to me that I present at a conference. This is striking. It’s a parallel to the fact that I grew up in a household where the expectation was that I would go to college. No negotiation. So when the time came, there was no other reality. I see conferences in the same way. From day one, library schools need to set the expectation of conference participation. We need to raise the bar. We need to create a culture where students are active outside the classroom. This culture does not exist in SLIS. We have no funding (unlike other schools! I just found out UW-Madison and UI-Urbana Champaign give Master’s students conference stipends!) and we don’t talk about how hanging out in the classroom isn’t enough. I just want to see one person who is as fired up as I am about making things happen. We’re talking about careers, money, a future librarian’s livelihood. Both parties need to bring more to the table.
Sometimes I feel like a crazy person. I’ve been told things like, “Oh Brianna, just relax, don’t worry about it. You’ll be done in a year and you’ll get a job and that’s that.” True. However, I don’t think I have unfair expectations. I don’t think I have unfair criticisms. I think it’s easy to watch opportunities slip by. Systems can fail quietly every day simply because nobody is aghast.
I don’t mean to be preachy. I’ve forced myself to do all things conference in a distinctly trial by fire manner. I’m happy to share my failures. It’s not glamorous and boy it’s not always easy, but the scary things are the ones that matter and pay off. The lack of conference participation indicates to me that students don’t feel like they have anything to offer the profession yet, and that’s just not the case. I want others to feel empowered too.
I will always advocate for higher expectations. SLIS. SLIS. SLIS, soon to be DILS, part of SOIC (yes we are merging, soon to become a department). I want to shake you. I want to say what is going on. What the hell is going on. Let’s make things happen. No more apathy.
A few photos (I didn’t take very many):